Dream Makers

In an Artist’s Studio – Christina Rossetti

One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel – every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Seated Model in the Artist’s Studio, by Paul-Gustave Fischer:

Road Trip With Walt

“Song of the Open Road” – Walt Whitman

1.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)

Edward Hopper, Road in Maine, 1914:

4.
The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted,
The cheerful voice of the public road, the gay fresh sentiment of the road.

O highway I travel, do you say to me Do not leave me?
Do you say Venture not—if you leave me you are lost?
Do you say I am already prepared, I am well-beaten and undenied, adhere to me?

O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you,
You express me better than I can express myself,
You shall be more to me than my poem.

I think heroic deeds were all conceiv’d in the open air, and all free poems also,
I think I could stop here myself and do miracles,
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me,
I think whoever I see must be happy.

Paul-Camille Guigou, Road by the Mediterranean, 1866:

5.
From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently,but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,
I will recruit for myself and you as I go,
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.

Andrei Ryabushkin, Road, 1887:

Song of the Open Road by Walt Whitman – Poetry Foundation

Poetry in Motion

Those of us who regularly ride the subways in New York know that it’s a strictly utilitarian experience; a massive transit system that moves millions of commuters around every day, across 300 square miles. Many of the train cars are drab as hell, very old, with zero aesthetic value. It’s not an atmosphere in which you expect to find inspiration. But occasionally, among the repetitive advertisement placards for personal injury lawyers, laser hair removal, and Homeland Security “If you see something, say something” slogans, a spot of artistic expression appears, thanks to the MTA’s “Poetry in Motion” project.

As I rode the train to Brooklyn recently for an art modeling job, I was moved by this pithy little gem from the American poet Galway Kinnell. It was mounted at the end corner of the train car near the doors. Something came over me, and I felt like I was falling in love. I typed the poem into my phone as a text message to myself so I could bring it with me.

Hide-and-Seek 1933, by Galway Kinnell

Once when we were playing
hide-and-seek and it was time
to go home, the rest gave up
on the game before it was done
and forgot I was still hiding.
I remained hidden as a matter
of honor until the moon rose.

What is it about this lovely poem that resonates with me so much? Perhaps that it’s a childhood recollection, something that I generally respond to, and I loved hide-and-seek as a little girl. One of my favorite games. Or maybe it’s the “matter of honor” in a little boy’s mind to respect the rules of the game, to carry out his commitment, and to not allow his quitter friends to influence him. He would rather defer to the poetic supremacy of the moon to give him his cues. I love it.

Boys Playing, by Victor Gabriel Gilbert:

In The Stillness

“Burnt Norton”, Four Quartets – T.S. Eliot

Time and the bell have buried the day,
The black cloud carries the sun away.
Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis
Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray
Clutch and cling?

.  .  .Chill
Fingers of yew be curled
Down on us? After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

Flower Clouds, Odilon Redon:

Love, always

Modern Declaration – Edna St. Vincent Millay

I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never
.  . .having wavered
In these affections; never through shyness in the houses of the
.  .  rich or in the presence of clergymen having denied these
.  .  loves;
Never when worked upon by cynics like chiropractors having
.  .  grunted or clicked a vertebra to the discredit of these
.   . loves;
Never when anxious to land a job having diminished them by
.  . a conniving smile; or when befuddled by drink
Jeered at them through heartache or lazily fondled the fingers
.  . of their alert enemies; declare

That I shall love you always.
No matter what party is in power;
No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied
.  . interest wins the war;
Shall love you always.

Marc Chagall, Lovers under lilies:

chagall-loversunderlilies

Lambent Beauty

Moonrise – D.H. Lawrence

And who has seen the moon, who has not seen
Her rise from out the chamber of the deep,
Flushed and grand and naked, as from the chamber
Of finished bridegroom, seen her rise and throw
Confession of delight upon the wave,
Littering the waves with her own superscription
Of bliss, till all her lambent beauty shakes towards us
Spread out and known at last, and we are sure
That beauty is a thing beyond the grave,
That perfect, bright experience never falls
To nothingness, and time will dim the moon
Sooner than our full consummation here
In this odd life will tarnish or pass away.

Elliott Daingerfield, Moon Rising over Fog Clouds, watercolor. Collection of Metropolitan Museum:

ElliottDaingerfield-MoonRisingFogClouds

Rough Beasts

Well hello there everyone. Happy New Year! My holiday break is almost over and I spent an inordinate bulk of it curled up in bed under the covers, wrestling with anxiety and insomnia. If that strikes you as a symptom of depressive behavior you’d be correct. Sure I could ascribe it to the “holiday blues” syndrome, which I’m told is a legitimate thing, or I could just be honest and acknowledge that I’m prone to this disorder, and have been for some time. So forgive me if I don’t offer a blog post bursting with good cheer, high hopes, and sanguine sentiments for the new year. However, you have my word that I’ll soon shake off this gloom and doom weepy dark cloud, or the “black dog” as Winston Churchill called it.

What’s interesting to me is how fear, anxiety, and disaffection have been potent catalysts for creative expression throughout history. While joyous, uplifting works of art are certainly among the greatest, most memorable of all time (Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is a prime example), the ominous, and at times alarming, works of expression are compelling in a much different way. And just as memorable.

I’ve stated before on this blog that William Butler Yeats is one of my favorite poets. I’ve featured him here, here, and here and I’m going to feature him again right now. This very well-known Yeats poem is one that I find apropos with regard to the world right now. Here is The Second Coming”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I came across an excellent essay in The Paris Review which describes The Second Coming as “the most thoroughly pillaged piece of literature in English”. It discusses the remarkable scope of references to the poem in pop culture and the arts, ranging from rock bands, comic books, artists and writers .. all of whom could not resist appropriating Yeats’s haunting and evocative turns of phrases. Who can blame them? The man was absolutely brilliant. Think about what he communicates with the imagery of  “the falcon cannot hear the falconer”. Here’s a paragraph from the Paris Review piece:

Yeats began writing the poem in January 1919, in the wake of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and political turmoil in his native Ireland. But the first stanza captures more than just political unrest and violence. Its anxiety concerns the social ills of modernity: the rupture of traditional family and societal structures; the loss of collective religious faith, and with it, the collective sense of purpose; the feeling that the old rules no longer apply and there’s nothing to replace them.

George Frederic Watts, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Rider on the Black Horse, 1878:

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation